Reports here and here (and, not surprisingly, in a dozen other newspapers) of a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, with the headline claim that 59% of UK university graduates are in sub-graduate level jobs. This contrasts with Germany and the Netherlands, who have only a 10% rate. Now, what are we to make of this? Depending upon your political persuasion — and thus what newspaper you are likely to read — this means that the UK is producing too many graduates and should focus more on vocational training, especially given the debts accumulated by university students; OR it means that the UK economic recovery over the past few years has produced some low-pay low-skills jobs but very few jobs that demand university-level skills, a bad sign for the economy’s balance and its future.
More immediately important, however, is the confusion over the numbers. You see, the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey reveals that only 32% of graduates are in non-graduate employment — and this survey is only counting recent graduates and its measurement point is six months from graduation. That means the real number — where we give graduates a bit more time to get on their feet — is likely to be considerably lower.
That’s a big difference.
What? You don’t suppose all this fuss is about nothing more than a difference in the definition of ‘graduate level employment’, do you? Oh, yes I do — although no one is publishing their definitions or how the data is gathered (students, what have I always said about defining your terms!?).
The study by the Chartered Institute uses European data; the Destinations survey uses UK data. If there is a difference in definition, likely it can be traced to the differences in the conception of universities in the UK and on the mainland. Historically countries like Germany have had massive systems of vocational education, and have not experienced nearly as huge a broadening of university systems. By contrast, in the UK the university system is much larger than it was only a couple of decades ago. This increase is greater than the increase in students studying classics, theoretical physics or philosophy; instead, it has been achieved in great part because courses that tended to be mainly in the vocational sector, are now increasingly taught at universities: design subjects, for example. Journalism, nursing and education schools are now much bigger than they used to be. It would not be surprising, then, if the definition both of university level subject, and also graduate level job, were different between mainland Europe and the UK.